home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

The Sixties

by Eileen Walsh, Bemidji State University

This activity explores emotions of eagerness, frustration, betrayal, community, and compassion during the 1960s. Students will explore this entire document, including all the links, and write a 5-page paper or an equivalent web page (no frills necessary except links) where they take up a position and perspective chosen from the four options provided.

Digital Blackboard - The Sixties

U.S. History II: 1877–2001
Spring 2001
Eileen Walsh
Bemidji State University

Internet Activity #4


This is an activity exploring emotions of eagerness, frustration, betrayal, community and compassion. Explore this entire document, including all the links. It calls for you to write a 5-page paper or you may create an equivalent web page (no frills necessary except links) in which you take up the position and perspective you choose from the four options below. Present ideas fairly, so that you seem reasonable and able to tackle complex ideas, but take a stand in your paper. This might not be an either/or situation; you might support some ideas but abhor others. Just make it clear what you mean, incorporate evidence from the 1960s, and write it clearly.

The Sixties

For this assignment, you will write a 5-page paper in which you will explore this historic period from one of four

possible perspectives: 1) a parent of young adults; 2) a movement activist; 3) a reporter covering the U.S. war in Vietnam;

or 4) a college professor. Each perspective is described in detail below.


In the writing phase of the assignment, you should adopt a creative writing style, yet also present a historical

argument through the voice of the person you are portraying. Each of the four perspectives involves a dilemma which

you have to explore and about which you must make a decision. Keep in mind, however, that there is not one

“correct” answer for each position. It is more important, in other words, to present adequate historical evidence for

your argument (whatever that argument is) than to simply choose a solution that seems “correct.”


Here are the descriptions of each perspective. After you have chosen the perspective you would like to pursue, follow the links to the Sixties Project: Primary Document Archive for access primary documents. Also use the Sixties Project: Special Exhibitions to use political posters and buttons as primary materials. Your paper will involve investigative research using the primary and secondary sources compiled here. You do not need to do additional outside research for this paper, but are free to do so if you choose.


1) . You are a parent of young adults. Early on, you are excited to see the future your children will create. You are not too sure they are inheriting a great world—the Cold War is going strong, the U.S. is racing to reach outer space before the Soviets base missiles there as they tried to do in Cuba, and for all the material possessions available now that wartime deprivations are over, it seems there are still large numbers of poor people even here in the United States — you just read that 1962 book by sociologist,Michael Harrington, titledThe Other America. It shocked and scared you. Now the kids are coming home with strange ideas, though, telling you the government is being run by corrupt politicians. You wish your kids could or would just go to college and get a good job and retire contentedly. Some of your friends begin to express similar views. Some are arguing. Has the world gone to hell, or is it getting a chance to be saved from going there?

In this paper, you have to decide: 1) if you will support your kids in what they are doing and 2) what you will tell your friends if (when) they ask what you think about the government’s behavior. Either way, you must write a letter to your kids explaining what you think—and feel—and why. Good luck!


2) You are a movement activist. You are committed to consensus politics, freedom, democracy, life, love, and maybe dope. That’s not cool for activists, though, since the cops will bust you for drugs to keep you off the streets. Your heroes are Abbie Hoffman or the founders of the Students for a Democratic Society or Gloria Steinem (or all of them). You and your friends are part of a large movement—you know it every time you have a meeting (at least one a day, it seems) and every time you watch the evening news (every evening). Soon after you become involved, you realize you have a gift for a specific aspect of organizing—maybe it’s writing up leaflets, or running a democratic meeting where everyone is heard, or giving speeches in public, or knowing how much food needs to be prepared or how many blankets must be procured for an event to work well. Heck, maybe you become expert at organizing bailing people out of jail, or sending press releases.

In this paper, you have to decide what action you do best. Write the paper as an internal memo to your fellow activists in which you detail an upcoming activity in which you will be involved. You must explain what will be done, why it is important, and how you hope it will come off. Also, keep in mind that the pressure to act quickly is very real. Things are happening fast. Good luck!


3) You are a reporter covering the U.S. war in Vietnam. You are a seasoned American journalist working for the Associated Press and are sent on a special mission to report on the growing resistance within the troops and among veterans of Vietnam to the continuation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. You are flown by helicopter into the countryside,joining up with a platoon of infantry men. You are hopeful that the damages will be negligible while you are with these guys, and that seems reasonable since you’ve seen the body counts and other reports that show the U.S. winning, but you hope you will see some action to make the trip worthwhile. The men in the platoon, on the other hand, would like nothing better than to get out of there alive. They are skeptical of your presence; some doubt that you will report what is really going on, others doubt that you will live long enough to write a report. U.S. government officials don’t provide much guidance and you immediately recognize that the dangers are far worse than expected and the men are overwhelmed by the physical and psychic toll of this war. You make a decision to “tell it like it is,” to be fair to these guys, even though you never saw them before and you’re sure the higher-ups are not going to be pleased.

In this paper, you have to decide how to report the story of the war at jungle level to the American public. You can use testimony from soliders whom you interview. You struggle to create a story that will bear witness to the sacrifices these men are making, yet also take into account the sense of tragedy waiting to be played out. Your paper should offer an overview of the story as you would cover it with drafted passages and links to relevant visual material. Write it as a memo to your senior editor justifying your decisions. Good luck!


4) You are a a college professor. Your classes are full of students with one of two reasons for being there: either they are living a peak moment in their lives and thirst for ideas, information, philosophies, and history to help them make sense of the world they are participants in, or they are there to get a college deferment. Some of your colleagues on the faculty object to giving a passing grade to students who have not earned it, upholding academic standards and being fair to those who truly earn their grades, but you torn by the knowledge that if a male student fails academic probation, he will most likely be drafted into the U.S. army and sent to Vietnam in a matter of weeks. Students are organizing teach-ins, asking you to participate by explaining some facet of what is going on in the news every day, in historical perspective, or environmental perspective, or economic perspective...or whatever your field is. Your profession was ripped apart at the last annual meeting when a resolution was introduced by some of the younger professors not to support certain recent acts by the powers that be. Parents have also contacted you to beg you to help their kids or to threaten you for being “UnAmerican,” whatever that is. You decide that you must take a stand on the issues that graduate school never prepared you for. Students can take your classes or not, as they wish, and your department can jump up and down if they want—thank goodness you’re tenured!—but you realize the moment is now to formulate your ideas and come forward with them.

In this paper, you should present your public statement defining your stand on whatever current issue(s) you have had to deal with, a formal statement justifying your decisions to all concerned parties. Include a few examples of primary documents and images.

Good luck!

History Dept. Home | College of Arts & Letters | BSU Home

Created: February 2001 for History 1115
Last modified:
Eileen Walsh
Bemidji State University
Bemidji MN 56601